Conversational writing is a crucial component of both good copywriting and effective content marketing. But as easy as it sounds – it is not always easy to pull off.
A lot of people have trouble writing conversationally.
We want to sound intelligent. We want to sound professional. We can feel our high school English teacher looking over our shoulders as we try to type.
The key to becoming a better writer is letting go of all that.
Here are some suggestions to help shake off the chains, and enjoy the freedom of writing like you.
1. Stop Thinking So Hard
One of the easiest ways to get yourself to write in a conversational tone is to stop thinking about writing and just write!
If you are analyzing every single word as you go along, it will take forever and you’ll drive yourself crazy.
In Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, she talks about writing “shitty first drafts.” Her advice was geared toward novelists, but it works for any type of writer.
The first step is getting it out of your head. It’s okay if it seems crappy. Perfectionism is one of the worst enemies of conversational writing.
My suggestion is to give yourself a very basic outline, so you have some structure or a road-map to follow. Then just write.
You can rework things later.
2. Write Like You Talk
This is common advice when trying to explain to someone how to write conversationally. The problem is, most of us don’t really know how we talk.
When you’re speaking with someone, you aren’t listening to yourself. Your brain is focused on what you’re going to say next.
Try these tricks to help you find your own conversational voice:
Record Yourself Talking
Get a little voice-recording device, record phone conversations and play them back, or use the microphone on your computer with some free audio software.
You can record yourself having actual conversations with friends and family or record yourself explaining something you might write about.
You may even want to try speaking the actual piece of content before you write it. Explain a concept or tell a story off the top of your head. Then transcribe it into text.
A lot of work – it’s true. But the extra effort can pay off.
Read Your Own Emails
Most of us write conversationally in day-to-day emails.
Maybe you don’t in work emails. But go into your personal email account and look at messages you sent your mom or the members of your bowling league. That’s how you communicate conversationally.
You could even try writing content in an email first. It may help you think about things differently.
Keep a Simple Daily Journal
This is a great way to practice conversational writing and improve over time.
I was home-schooled until high school. One thing my mom/teacher had us do was make a daily journal entry. We wrote as if we were telling a friend what happened the previous day. It’s something that helped me become a better storyteller and a better conversational writer.
Just write a paragraph or two about something interesting that happened to you. Don’t tell me nothing interesting happens to you. I was home-schooled for crying out loud, and I did it!
After keeping a journal, you’ll find it’s easier to write in a conversational tone elsewhere.
Read Your Writing Out Loud
For some reason, I’ve always hated this one. It feels weird, and it’s not always easy to do if you’re surrounded by other people.
But it really works. So I’ve got to suck it up with the rest of you.
Read what you’ve written out loud and you’re bound to hear awkward sentences and find typos. More importantly – you’ll read it and say, “That doesn’t sound like me.”
It’s smart to read other writers who use a conversational tone. Imatiting their style may even help you learn something. But in the end you want to write like you – not them. So if you find yourself saying, “That’s not the way I’d say it.” Change it.
3. Think About Someone Specific
This is one of my favorite tips for creating conversational writing.
It can be as simple as taking on the perspective of having an actual conversation. That means it’s okay to use words like “you,” “we” and “I.”
When you write, imagine yourself talking with a persona of your typical customer. Create a character. Make it as detailed and realistic as you can. Not just a woman between 40 and 50. Give her a name, a job, a family. Think about her education, her favorite TV show, what car she drives.
When I write – I tend to broaden things out a little more. It’s like I’m imagining a group of people in a room. I think this is effective if you have different types of typical customers.
I might be writing to someone with an established small business, someone who works in marketing and someone who is just playing around with the idea of starting their own company.
If I can – I try to make what I’m writing relevant for all of them. But if that makes things too muddled – just focus on the reader persona that is most relevant to the subject.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Break the Rules
The most important thing about your writing is communicating effectively.
You want to get your point across. You want your readers to learn something. You don’t need to worry about getting a good grade from that English professor with the argyle sweater vest.
Good conversational writing will often throw some of the “rules” out the window:
Complete Sentences: You don’t always need them. It’s okay to use fragments every now and then as long as the reader understands what you’re trying to say.
Contractions: If you’re not using contractions just to get your word count up, you are one lazy writer. When we talk with each other, we use contractions more often than not. So let your little friend the apostrophe help you make your writing more natural.
Ands & Buts: When we were in school, teachers told us it was incorrect to start sentences with “But” and “And.” There’s actually nothing wrong with it. They just wanted to keep kids from starting every sentence with And or But. In fact, sometimes doing so is the perfect way to break up sentences that get too long.
Ending Sentences with Prepositions: You might see some red ink on your term paper if you end a sentence with a word like “with.” But that’s the way we talk in every day life.
What sentence sounds more conversational?
“Legos are my favorite toy to play with” or “Legos are my favorite toy with which to play.”
Tell the Grammar Police to go suck an egg. You’re writing conversationally now. If you were a straight A student, you may have to unlearn all of that stuff. But trust me – it’s going to feel much better.
Of course, you don’t want your writing to be a complete mess. Check out Copyblogger’s infographic on the 15 Grammar Goofs that Make You Look Silly for a refresher on some common mistakes.
5. Understand the Content First
Research is an irreplaceable step in copywriting as well as content creation. You need to understand the product or topic in order to write about and explain it to others.
I’ve found it’s much better to do your research and then let it sit in your mind a little while before you begin writing. Allow your brain some time process all that information.
Then when you regurgitate it into words, keep those documents you used for research handy. But don’t rely on them. Don’t copy and paste huge quotations of technicalities. Explain it in common language the best you can.
When you write conversationally – you are not writing a thesis paper, dissertation, legal document or a technical manual.
There’s a time and place for that kind of writing – but never in advertising or content marketing.
If you don’t understand what you’re writing – then there’s no way your readers will.
6. Don’t Always Write Like an Expert
There’s a good side and a bad side to being a subject matter expert.
For one thing, you know nearly everything there is to know about the topic. However, you may know a little too much.
If you’re an authority on what you’re writing about, you may have to try a little harder to dumb things down for the Average Joe.
Think about your audience!
Can you expect them to be familiar with industry jargon, or will those terms be confusing? Are you explaining something to a novice, or discussing something in-depth with an audience that’s as educated as you are?
When you’re not sure if your writing will go over the heads of your target audience, find someone who could be in that audience. Ask them to give you feedback. That means finding someone who knows next-to-nothing about the topic, yet is at least somewhat interested in learning more.
7. Don’t Go Overboard
There is certainly a line you can cross with conversational writing – and every situation is unique.
If you’re writing reads like a 13 year-old girl on Twitter, you may have have gone a little too far (unless you’re writing for tweens using twitter). Remember – not everyone knows what all those texting acronyms actually mean.
If you drop a lot of f-bombs in everyday life – you may want to censor yourself a little bit. There are some writers who use cursing as part of their personality- but I highly doubt you’ll see them writing that way for clients.
Conversational writing is still professional writing. It just so happens that writing conversationally is the best way to write persuasively and clearly.